Jad Semaan: 'We do what everyone else is not doing'
Posted on October 27, 2019 | By Ghada Azzi

Brandon’s managing partner, Jad Semaan, refuses to take anything seriously. And humour can go a long way in advertising

“To be completely honest, I was really into this girl at college who wanted to major in graphic design, so next thing you know I’m doing the same,” says Jad Semaan. “I never got the girl but I got a pretty cool career out of it.”

The managing partner of Brandon, an independent agency headquartered in Byblos, is in a humorous mood. You can visualise him chuckling to himself as he pens witty retorts to banal questions. And who can blame him. If the communications industry needs more of one thing, it’s humour. “It’s a mad house at Brandon 18 hours a day,” he says. “One day we’re working on two-for-one hot dog offers, the next we’re getting MPs elected.”

There’s something instantly appealing about an agency founder who makes fun of everything, including his own agency, and Semaan is right up there. His answers are a conscious medley of irreverence, self-deprecation and outright piss-taking.

The agency’s best work in the past year? “Honestly, we got all our guests drunk at our annual luncheon this year; it was quite an achievement.” The agency’s creative culture? “You’ll have to ask our office dog Kimi about that. Honestly, we have a strict non-strict philosophy and if you’re struggling a little, we’ll give you the Rocky speech until you’re good to go.” Kimi is the agency’s quality control officer.

Brandon even makes fun of its own staff. Take account director Rouwa Keyrouz: “Her last client was found in the trunk of her car. We pulled all our strings together and got her out on bail because we actually have no idea how to live without her. She’s the well-oiled lean machine of Brandon. A tad psychotic, yes, but we love her.” Or senior web developer Mhamad Dassouki: “Silent. Normally has chips for lunch. Usually found talking ‘alien talk’ or smoking in the hallway. Usually says hello around noon. We feel he’s not a morning person, we’ll never know.”

You can picture Semaan laughing to himself as he writes enjoyably quotable answers to our questions: “We’d honestly like to create a campaign for Neverland. One so amazingly appealing that maybe our politicians would want to move there”; “Think of a lego house. There are a million ways you can build one. Agencies are the same. The key is to always have a door that works, a window that lets in a little sunlight and some cold wine in the fridge”; “Advertising and finding brand purpose in Lebanon? If you’d say this to anyone, they’d tell you it’s like describing the colour of the sky to a blind man. So yes, I feel we’re all part of this impossible club.”

Whatever your view of such tactics, they don’t appear to be doing any harm. The agency has a healthy portfolio of clients, worked on Ziad Hawat’s electoral campaign, and now has offices in Byblos, Nairobi and Syria. It could even be giving the big networks a run for their money.

“I thought we already were, why, did you hear anything else?” says Semaan. “In all seriousness, we’re insanely dedicated to this and we’re climbing the ladder, one step at a time. We’re a local agency that started from scratch; with one designer and a messy office and now look at us – 22 team members and three messy offices.”

You get the sense that Semaan gives short shrift to idle talk. He has no time for to-do lists or five-year plans and dismisses any assertion that smaller agencies can only work with smaller clients. “If we’re throwing the old agency model out the window, then we should throw this thought out as well,” he says. “In today’s world, two main things are key – strategy and content. You master those, you master any client. And since we’re throwing things out, grand scale projects will go as well. I thought size didn’t matter, no?”

The agency’s edge? “I’d say our edge is enjoying a glass of really good wine and trying to understand what brands need – sometimes, it’s not the craziest, most beautiful thing,” he replies. “That’s our edge; we’re capable of letting go of our overly dramatic, creative ideas and opt for what’s right for our client; all with a glass of wine in hand.”

What’s it all for? The results, of course. “Working on MP Ziad Hawat’s electoral campaign, for example, was a battlefield. Almost a year of hard work and we got the results in a split second – the feeling’s truly like no other.

“The advertising world lacks people who love their job,” he adds. “I think we’re quite lucky to have a team of lunatics obsessed with the job. Character, love, obsession and humour. You got them? Welcome aboard.”